In a recent episode of The Wishbone podcast Van Plexico asked me “What kind of season will Jeremy Johnson have? What will his final statistics look like?” I threw something out, but I wanted to at least attempt to answer the question in a more thorough and thoughtful manner.
So by looking at the results of Johnson’s limited playing time, the history of quarterbacks in a Gus Malzahn offense, and what other SEC quarterbacks have done over the past five years, here’s an attempt to project Jeremy Johnson’s final statistics for the 2015 regular season.
- Research past quarterbacks in this offense and create a spreadsheet with their season statistics.
- Group the quarterbacks into three basic types (pure passer, runner, hybrid) based on number of rushing attempts and rushing average. (See below)
- Examine Jeremy Johnson’s statistics up to this point.
- The key projection point for this exercise is how many passing attempts Johnson will get in 2015. Nick Marshall threw the ball 22.5 times per game in 2014 while rushing the ball 11.8 times per game. Paul Smith threw the ball 39 times per game in this offense at Tulsa in 2007. Ryan Applin threw the ball 31 times per game in 2012 at Arkansas State. (A key element in Malzahn’s offense is that the system adapts to the players he has each year–the team can be more run oriented or pass oriented depending upon the strengths and weaknesses of the players involved.) So there is no reason to believe that Johnson’s 2015 will look similar to Marshall’s 2014 season.
(An important reminder before we continue: in college football, sacks are considered a rushing attempt by the quarterback and are included in their rushing attempts and totals. So a quarterback like Chris Todd ran the ball very few times other than the times he was rushed while attempting a pass. In 2009, Todd had 44 rushing attempts for a net negative 116 yards. Yes—his rushing total is a negative number. Meanwhile Nick Marshall rushing 153 times for 798 yards also includes some negative plays, times where where he was either sacked or lost yardage rushing the ball.)
- So how to decide the appropriate number of pass attempts by Jeremy Johnson is the key question that will drive all the other results. Over two seasons Johnson has played in the first half against Arkansas going 12 for 16 for 243 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 243.83. (Marcus Mariota won the Heisman last year and had just two games with a higher rating than that.) If we simply doubled Johnson’s attempts from that game that would be 32. That’s too easy an answer, though.
- The Malzahn offense has flourished with three very distinct types of quarterbacks: Runners (Nick Marshall and Cam Newton – they averaged 11+ rushing attempts per game and threw the ball less than 23 times per game), Pure Passers (pass attempts over 27 per game and rushing average below 2.5 yards per carry,) and Hybrids (passing attempts over 30 per game with rushing attempts over 7.5 per game). While it is possible that Johnson fits into the pure passer category I believe he’ll ultimately fit into the Hybrid category with Ryan Applin (2012 Arkansas State) and Paul Smith of Tulsa (2007.) Neither ran the ball as much or nearly as effectively as Cam or Nick Marshall, but both were effective runners when they needed to be (unlike the Chris Todds in the pure passer group).
- Also we know that based on Johnson’s talents that Auburn will throw the ball more than in 2013 or 2014. In 2014 the Auburn quarterback threw the ball 22.5 times per game and ran 11.8 times per game. If we assume that a few read option hand-offs become passes and a few quarterback runs become passes then we end up with Johnson passing 31 times per game and rushing 7 times per game, which will include sacks. Auburn has averaged allowing 1.63 sacks per game in the five years Malzahn has been at Auburn. Some of that number is low because of the elusiveness of Nick Marshall and Cam, but it also includes the Trotter /Mosley season behind a rebuilt offensive line in 2011.)
- So if Johnson passes the ball 31 times per game what will his average game look like? So far in his young career Johnson has completed 73% of the passes he has attempted. That is an incredibly high percentage. The national leaders each year average around 69-70%. In the past five years only four SEC quarterbacks have completed over 68% of their passes over an entire season. Having said that I am projecting a 68% completion percentage for Johnson based on his performance and the completion percentage of similar quarterbacks in this offense. So if Johnson attempts 31 passes and completes 68%, that’s 21 completions. Johnson has averaged around 11 yards per completion which seems on par with similar quarterbacks in the system. Twenty-one completions times 11 yards per completion is 232 yards per game passing. (This is a very conservative number which factors in games where Auburn won’t need to throw the ball very much to win.)
- So the completed projected for Jeremy Johnson over thirteen games in 2015 looks like this: 403 passing attempts – 274 completions, 68% completion percentage, 3016 total yards, 30 touchdowns, 91 rushes for 364 yards.
Does that seem very aggressive? It may be. The passing yardage total would be the second best passing season in Auburn history. But Auburn is going to pass more often this season, giving Johnson the opportunity to do more through the air. In Malzhan’s years running this offense his quarterbacks have averaged 8.2 yards per passing attempt as a group. So if Johnson averaged 8.2 yards per attempt his per-game passing yardage would go up to 254 yards per game (and 8.2 yards per attempt is not an unreasonable assumption—it would have been 5th in the SEC last year.)
Historical data on quarterbacks in this system:
If you’d like to help TWER keep on keepin’ on, please click here.